Reflections on the Abandonment of the Jews: A Symposium

Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the Abandonment of the Jews: A Symposium


Lawrence Baron:

I first became aware of David Wyman's research when I was writing an article about the response of the residents of Oswego, New York, to the internment of refugees, mostly European Jews, in the nearby abandoned Fort Ontario Army base from the Summer of 1944 until the beginning of 1946. Therein I cited Wyman's Paper Walls (1968) as background for why the temporary asylum afforded these displaced persons constituted the exception that proved the rule of the Roosevelt administration's belated and limited commitment to rescue Jews fleeing from annihilation. Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews which was released a year after my article was published, substantiated that the token Oswego experiment demonstrated that the "safe-haven" program easily could have been expanded had Roosevelt not decided to limit it to one camp out of fear of offending immigration restrictionists.

Recently, I found myself consulting Wyman's work again for an article challenging the consensus view that there was little consciousness of the Holocaust among Americans either while it was occurring or in the postwar period. Wyman correctly maintained that the declaration, jointly issued by England, the Soviet Union, and the United States on December 17, 1942, unambiguously condemned the Third Reich's "intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe." Parenthetically, Wyman's summary of the declaration should be compared to Michael Beschloss's misleading characterization of it as a vague denunciation of German atrocities that did not specifically mention Jews. Wyman's subsequent essay on Holocaust memory in the United States was one of the first studies on this subject to acknowledge the role of the Nuremberg Trials and popular culture in disseminating the story of the Shoah to millions of Americans prior to the Eichmann Trial. Though his essay on Holocaust memory preceded the books by Peter Novick and Alan Mintz, it displayed a better understanding of the gradual growth of Holocaust awareness in this country in contrast to the notion that interest about the event developed suddenly as a response to the Eichmann Trial, the Six-Day War, and the Jewish identity politics that emerged in the late 1960's.

Wyman's ability to combine meticulous scholarship with a moral vision of the rescue opportunities missed by the United States continues to impress and inspire me.

Lawrence Baron is Professor of History at San Diego (CA) State University.

Joseph W. Bendersky:

The Abandonment of the Jews had a major influence on both my teaching of the Holocaust and my research regarding the U.S. Army's engagement with the "Jewish Question" in the first half of the twentieth century. David S. Wyman's book, together with the scholarly controversy it engendered, compelled me to revise entirely the way I had, for years, been teaching about the American response to the Holocaust. However, in retrospect, I realized that my true appreciation for the scope and originality of his research really developed only when I began to follow his tracks through the archives. The research paths that he opened up were invaluable guides to crucial documentation, and I acquired enormous respect for the tenacious effort such an undertaking required. Moreover, significant parts of his interpretive argumentation provided a paradigmatic framework for linking my discoveries about the antisemitic culture of the U.S. Army officer corps in earlier decades with key aspects of American relief and rescue policies during the Holocaust. While acknowledging the difficulty of documenting extensively the role of antisemitism in U.S. decision-making, Wyman still strongly suggested its centrality. Although I initially never set out to examine this particular question, in the end, my own archival military sources documenting the extent, virulence, and impact of antisemitism confirmed Wyman's original instincts and inferences concerning its importance in understanding the general American response to the Holocaust. …

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